TOWER POWER

Chic FASH­ION, fine DIN­ING – and hard-core WORK­OUTS! A well­ness revo­lu­tion is sweep­ing PARIS – and START-UPS are muscling in.

Collective Hub - - TREND - WORDS HE­LEN BAR­LOW

It all started with Parisian res­i­dent Giuseppe. He loves to run, which wasn’t al­ways the case. For many years, he sat at a desk run­ning his com­pany and he was start­ing to get a bit tubby, so he de­cided to em­brace a new hobby. Within six months of ris­ing early to run around beau­ti­ful lakes and along tree-lined run­ning paths he was back to his trim self. Now he runs marathons.

To help him achieve his up­most level of fit­ness he hired trainer Zaima Bouta, a high-school phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion teacher who works for the start-ups Ur­ban Run­ning and Ur­ban Chal­lenge.

Founded by Jean-Philippe Benoist in 2012, the start-ups have Amer­i­can-style names be­cause Amer­i­cans are known for their love of fit­ness whereas the French had, stereo­typ­i­cally, pre­ferred to sit in cafes and watch passers-by. To­day, that has all changed. A fit­ness revo­lu­tion has well and truly taken the French cap­i­tal by storm.

“It started 10 years ago and re­ally in­creased five years ago,” says Zaima. “[The fit­ness scene] is chang­ing all the time and is be­com­ing more di­verse. It’s not just in a gym any­more. It’s out on the street and women have more ac­cess. When I stud­ied for my univer­sity de­gree there weren’t many women study­ing sports back then, but now cour­ses have been adapted for women and there are many more women train­ers than ever.”

Ac­cord­ing to Zaima, French women – long ob­sessed by their ap­pear­ance – are now look­ing more at their well­be­ing. The Parisian fit­ness scene is boom­ing, fu­elled by so­cial me­dia and health trends like Crossfit – and new start-ups are cater­ing to peo­ple’s health de­sires.

Go any week­end to Paris’s out­door land­marks - the Bois de Vin­cennes, the Bois de Boulogne, the Buttes de Chau­mont and the in­ner-city Lux­em­bourg Gar­dens – and you will wit­ness jog­gers wear­ing bright, fash­ion­able out­fits run­ning for dear life.

In Paris, fit­ness fans share their work­out ex­pe­ri­ences on Face­book and In­sta­gram where work­out videos are pop­u­lar and, ac­cord­ing to Zaima, it cre­ates “a fash­ion”. And, the fit­ness craze isn’t slow­ing down any­time soon.

“The kind of ac­tiv­i­ties that in­ter­est the[peo­ple here] aren’t nec­es­sar­ily from France,” says Zaima. “It was Zumba be­fore, now it’s CrossFit that’s in vogue, so we’re plan­ning an ac­tiv­ity around that.” >

Amer­i­cans are KNOWN for their love of FIT­NESS whereas the FRENCH had, stereo­typ­i­cally, PRE­FERRED to sit in cafes and WATCH passers-by. To­day, that has ALL changed.

The aim of Ur­ban Chal­lenge is to bring peo­ple to­gether through ex­er­cise. Sit­u­ated in 14 dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions around Paris, it pro­vides a mil­i­tary-style fit­ness regime in one-hour ses­sions and it’s sign-ups are 62 per­cent women with the av­er­age age of 29 to 30.

In con­trast, Ur­ban Run­ning at­tracts se­ri­ous run­ners of­ten aim­ing for the city’s marathons and has roughly more men with an av­er­age age of 38.

The prob­lem with the French is that many are not keen to rise early for ex­er­cise, says Zaima. “I’ve spent time in South Africa and I’m sure it’s the same in Aus­tralia where peo­ple are at the gym at six o’clock and it’s a crowded place. We don’t have that at all.”

It’s very IM­POR­TANT for MO­TI­VA­TION be­cause you have your FRIENDS go­ing there so they WILL give you IN­CEN­TIVE to go.

Early in the busi­ness, he re­alised that to suc­ceed they would need to tar­get mid­day ex­er­cis­ers. “That’s clearly a cul­tural as­pect. They want to do sports at lunchtime and we work with around 30 com­pa­nies to fa­cil­i­tate that.”

And, it’s just as pop­u­lar dur­ing the work week as on week­ends. De­spite many French em­ploy­ees hav­ing “tick­ets restau­rants” – where they can eat a meal at their com­pa­nies’ ex­pense – more are in­stead spend­ing their lunch­breaks in­dulging in ex­er­cise.

Run­ners zig-zag across the Seine on the city’s many fa­mous bridges, cir­cle around the Eif­fel Tower and make their way along the for­mer river­side road that is now closed to traf­fic – an ini­tia­tive of the city’s ground-break­ing mayor, Anne Hi­dalgo. But they’re not work­ing out alone. For Parisians, it’s im­por­tant that the ac­tiv­ity is so­cial, and Zaima was well aware of this when set­ting up his now rapidly ex­pand­ing en­ter­prise. He was also smart in util­is­ing out­doors spa­ces which, apart from the en­joy­ment fac­tor, is also cost-ef­fec­tive.

“In 2010, I had been work­ing as a banker in Lon­don and I was com­ing back to Paris when a friend of my now-wife said there was this ac­tiv­ity in Lon­don which was very pop­u­lar,” the 38-year-old re­calls. “It’s called British Mil­i­tary Fit­ness and was started by for­mer sol­diers and at the time they were in 42 cities and around 300 lo­ca­tions do­ing this sports train­ing.

This kind of group ac­tiv­ity seemed like a good idea, and a grow­ing trend. “It’s very im­por­tant for mo­ti­va­tion be­cause you have your friends go­ing there so they will give you in­cen­tive to go,” he says. “Also, peo­ple don’t have much time to travel [to work­out]. This kind of boot­camp in the street uses the ma­te­rial at their dis­posal.”

When it comes to coaches, Ur­ban Chal­lenge hires a lot of su­per-fit fire­men, who have a high level of train­ing (and, as a bonus, are usu­ally very good look­ing!).

Un­sur­pris­ingly for such a fash­ion­able city, looks mat­ter even when you’re ex­er­cis­ing in Paris. But fash­ion is dif­fer­ent to the chic, muted tones of women’s daily life. On the jog­ging tracks of Paris, they get to let loose with bright flu­oro colours and busi­ness is boom­ing for sports-goods man­u­fac­tur­ers.

“Be­fore they didn’t have these flashy colours,” Zaima says. “It was all grey, black, camel and navy blue. Whereas now it’s bright pink and red and strik­ing blue for sport.”

To be close to the ac­tion, the en­tre­pre­neur has re­lo­cated to cen­tral Paris near the Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre in an of­fice he shares with a bike-hire com­pany – the other lat­est Parisian fad.

The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hi­dalgo, has au­tho­rised the con­struc­tion of bike paths through­out the city – if only cy­clists would stick to them. In a typ­i­cal one-way street, cy­clists can be seen trav­el­ling in the wrong di­rec­tion, which is a prob­lem.

“It’s progress,” Zaima chuck­les. “Cer­tainly there’s an an­i­mos­ity be­tween the bikes and the cars, and be­tween the bikes and the rest of the peo­ple in Paris. I don’t know why but the cy­clists aren’t very at­ten­tive and they think they have all rights be­cause it’s the pri­or­ity of the city. I find it weird.”

Then, of course, there are the Paris Olympics in 2024, where the Mayor clev­erly pitched her beloved city by show­cas­ing events along the Seine. “They had the track where you could do sports for the whole day and they had boat races on the Seine,” Zaima re­calls. “It was very im­pres­sive.”

They man­aged to unite peo­ple to the cause of the Olympics of Paris 2024, and ev­ery­one felt they were in­volved. “Paris is be­com­ing more and more ori­ented to­wards sport,” he notes. “It will reach a peak with the Olympics with the ren­o­va­tion of the parks and sta­di­ums. I can see, peo­ple are be­com­ing more and more sporty in their heads while the ad­min­is­tra­tion is ac­com­mo­dat­ing more sport than they once did. The pol­i­tics of sport is on the up!”

It will reach a PEAK with the OLYMPICS with the REN­O­VA­TION of the PARKS and STA­DI­UMS.

COL­LEC­TIVE HUB

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